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Sunday, April 3, 2011

What Lala Said

Lala won the heart of his nation even if he didn’t win the World Cup.
Pakistan Skipper Shahid Afridi has been on a roll, not just on the field but also off it. From the get go, he has said and done the right things – and he sure has mastered the art of public speaking.
Confident, eloquent, honest and behind his boys 100 per cent,he’s been nothing short of brilliant behind the microphone, addressing members of the press and audiences around the world.
While it was his post-match presentation ceremony speech in Mohali that clean bowled us, where he apologised to the Pakistani nation for not making it to the final …

… on many other occasions he has been the strong front the Pakistan team needed. His immediate response to Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s statements was that he shouldn’t have said what he did, and later stated: “Rehman Malik made a mistake making those remarks, especially at that stage, and I hope in future he will not repeat it.” In the pre-match press conference in Mohali, despite all the hype about the next day’s match, Afridi was calm and composed. And he put things in perspective.

Asked about an alleged statement he made about not allowing Tendulkar to score his 100th century in the semi-final – which for the record he didn’t, taking a good catch off Ajmal’s bowling after Tendulkar was dropped thrice in his own overs – Afridi had this to say: “I’ve been following the Indian media for the past two days and I have noticed that they try to create a mountain out of a molehill. I didn’t say anything against Sachin; however, if somebody asks me, as captain, I will obviously not say I’ll allow him to score a century,” (see video above – much more interesting to hear in Urdu). Criticising the Indian media further, he said, “The media is at fault for the sour Indo-Pak relations.” Adding later, “This is a huge occasion for us, to come and play in India and cricket has always strengthened this (Pak-India) relationship,” telling them to focus on the positives for a change (see the video at the eight-minute mark).
In the post-match ceremony and press conference…

… Afridi graciously congratulated the Indian team and Indian spectators on their win, commended his boys for making it this far in the tournament, expressing his happiness at captaining such a side, while admitting with honesty that the Pakistan team’s poor batting and fielding performance was inexcusable. About his own batting, he admitted that he failed to do the needful in the semi-final. “In batting sometimes I perform and sometimes I don’t, but for the last four years I’ve been focusing on my bowling,” he remarked in an earlier press conference. And focus on his bowling he did, picking up 21 wickets at an average economy rate of 4.0 with a 5-wicket haul to his name.
Speaking to reporters at his home in Karachi, once again, he apologised – which elicited a similar response to that of the previous apology: that there was no need – for the poor batting performance in particular.

Again, when the Paksitan-India match topic was broached, he set the record straight with the Pakistani media the way he did with the Indian: “Why are we so against India? In every home there are Indian dramas running, we watch Indian movies, our wedding ceremonies follow Indian trends, then what is all the hatred and competition about? Treat a sport as a sport.”
Throughout, Afridi emphasised, “we are a unit,” “the boys are doing a great job” and “I am very happy as a captain.” Rebuilding the team has been an important part of the journey. “We’ve gone through a tough time in the last seven, eight months,” said Afridi, adding, “This World Cup matters a lot to us; we’re trying to bring cricket back home.” And he may have already clinched that deal ­ – word is, Sri Lanka may be touring Pakistan in October-November.
Afridi has tackled questions, criticisms and pressure with seeming effortless ease, all in a bid to keep his boys relaxed and focused on the game. And though Afridi has matured, humour is not beyond him. The man whose antics such as his infamous ‘kiss to Kallis’ keep audiences entertained, he kept it up off the field as well. In the post-match press conference in Mohali, Afridi cheekily added that he did, after all, prevent Tendulkar from scoring a century.
Back home, crediting Pakistan cricket with the feat, he said, “We facilitated a meeting between two prime ministers.” His casual manner at the pre-match ceremony before the Mohali showdown was also amazing.
Not able to hear one question very well, which was about the average age of the Pakistan team being quite young, Afridi remarked: “You’re saying this by looking at me?” (yeh aap mujhe dekh ke keh rahay hain?). And in the midst of responding to two questions asked by one reporter, mid-sentence he halted to say: “Yaar sawal doosra konsa tha bhai,” causing the crowd to erupt into laughter with Afridi himself breaking out into a smile.
Said Afridi: “I’m a cricketer first, then a diplomat. I am the ambassador of Pakistan so I should know what to say.” Well, he certainly did. He kept his nerve and helped keep the team’s. I’d vote for him as our goodwill ambassador any day!
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